Not too many people know this about me, but it is true. When I play my drum during a performance, I am almost paralyzed with stage fright. My heart races. My breathing gets shallow. I begin to feel like the muscles in my arms are going to stop working at any moment. Fear sends the sweat trickling down my back and my stomach feels like it is going to turn inside out. It borders on a full blown panic attack.
For anyone that knows me, this is probably a bit of a shock. I am one of the least shy people I know. I can talk to anyone. I can stand up in front of 1000 people with no written notes and speak as though I am talking to a close friend. Public speaking is a normal part of my job and I do it fearlessly.
But put a drum in my hands and suddenly I am, well, terrified.
It has been so bad at times that I have wondered whether I should even try to play in public. Maybe I should just give it up and stick to the drum circles and classes and forget about performing altogether.
And yet, I dream of the day that I can play without fear and just engage with my fellow musicians and feel the joy that I know is inside me somewhere.
Last night, a tiny glimpse. I got the chance to play dundun for a dance class in Providence. My teacher and another drummer were playing djembes and I was on the bass drums. At first I was playing a part I didn't know and was very grateful that Laso was keeping a steady rhythm for me. But about a third of the way through the class, the dance teacher, Seydou, asked me to play the rhythm for Dansa and I was off and running.
Playing for a solid hour, even at a moderate pace, is hard work. I realized that my muscles were starting to cramp a little, so I had to consciously shift my body so I could relax more. I began to notice where I was tight. My feet, oddly enough, were cramping. My back was slouching. My hands were gripping my sticks too tight. When you are playing at a good clip for a long time, it is easy to recognize bad technique.
Once I started playing I began to feel less and less and nervous and just started to enjoy myself. I loved watching the dancers. I loved watching how Seydou moved when he was showing them the steps. One of the students was really wonderful, too. She economized her movements and wasted no energy. Just like African dancers do. Just as I was trying to do with my drums.
At the end of the class, as I stretched my arms and back muscles back out, I realized that I was one step closer to being able to play without fear. I felt joy. And can't wait to play again.